Indict Katherine Harris, Democrats Urge

by Donna Ladd

Even as George W. Bush enjoys mountainous wartime popularity, one of his election lieutenants is causing cracks in the nation's veneer of political politeness. Within 24 hours of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris's announcement that she would run for U.S. Congress next year, bit back with a Web site and an e-mail alert. The group, co-founded by the Web designer of President Clinton's White House Web site and a consultant for Geraldine Ferraro's 1998 Senate race, is not only reminding voters of last year's election debacle. They are calling for the Democrats' version of Cruella de Vil to be indicted of several crimes they say helped Bush stumble into the White House.

"Katherine Harris belongs in jail, not the U.S. Congress," wrote founder Bob Fertik, in the e-mail. Fertik and his partner, David Lytel, say Harris violated a list of state and federal laws including the Votings Rights Act, the Ballot Design Law, and the American With Disabilities Act. They are collecting signatures (and donations) to encourage Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs to bring up charges against Harris on 14 points associated with the 2000 presidential election. For one, Harris contracted with a private company for a "fraudulent felon purge," costing Democrat Al Gore thousands of votes, the group alleges. In addition, the congressional candidate allowed Republican operatives to work inside her office, draft speeches for her, and coordinate with Bush-Cheney attorneys on interpretation of election laws. And she allowed county canvassing boards to count 680 clearly illegal overseas military ballots, including some cast after Election Day.

Fertik says that Harris's entry into the race will help erode the bipartisan spirit that has swept the country since September 11. "Harris is such a divisive figure because she blocked the counting of 175,000 uncounted votes. How can we as a nation fight for 'Democracy' if our votes aren't counted?" Fertik told the Voice. He also accuses her of trying to cash in on the benevolent spirit of the moment, rather than waiting for a more appropriate time. "She thinks she can personally benefit from our present national unity, but she is doing tremendous damage to that unity instead," he said.

Citing a September 29, 2001, report in the St. Petersburg Times, is also fingering Harris for five non-Bush-related transgressions, including flying first class, making personal calls on her government-issued cell phone, and not allowing the state's inspector general to report directly to her, as required by Florida law. Harris recently fired Inspector General Dwight Chastain, who had complained that, despite numerous requests for meetings, he had almost no access to the secretary of state.

Fertik rejects any suggestion that is trying to use Harris to redirect attention back to the botched election and away from a suddenly popular Bush. "Katherine Harris chose to announce her campaign this week--not us," he said, adding, "We did not suspend law enforcement in the United States on September 11."

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